UUA hopes for 100 off-site delegates at June General Assembly.
The General Assembly in June 2013 in Louisville, Ky., will be the third annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association where some delegates have been enabled to vote on GA business without being there in person.
GA off-site voting was first permitted in 2011, when approximately 40 delegates used it. Last year there were 80. Mark Steinwinter, the UUA’s director of Information Technology Services, is hoping for more than 100 in June. In any given year, the system can accommodate 250.
The voting process this year will be essentially the same as in previous years. Off-site delegates will need a computer, Internet connection, and a telephone. They must register as delegates by June 7 at 5 p.m., paying a fee of $150.
Off-site delegates will vote on all business that in-attendance delegates will consider. If they wish, they can offer comments that will be heard in the convention hall before voting occurs. Off-site vote totals will be posted on large video screens as the votes take place.
Steinwinter said there will be some minor changes in off-site procedures this year. One change is aimed at creating more community among off-site delegates. He noted that off-site delegates, while they waited online for votes to happen in the past two years, had conversations among themselves using a forum established for that purpose. “A real community has formed among these folks, and we’re looking at how to beef that up,” Steinwinter said. “We want to strengthen the sense that they are doing something together.” He noted that a lot of the online “chatter” last year was about the issues being voted on. “It helped delegates formulate their thoughts and ideas about the issues.”
He said off-site delegates also help each other with technical issues. “Probably half of all the questions that came up about the technical aspects of off-site voting they solved among themselves. This is a community that more and more is supporting itself. We’re going to work hard to help it become more of a community.”
Steinwinter cautioned there are some votes that will happen at this GA that can’t be made electronically. GA delegates will elect a president and moderator. Those elections require that all votes be on paper ballots. Off-site delegates can still participate, but they will need to mail in paper absentee ballots which will be provided to congregations along with other GA information.
An increasing number of the technology workers and tellers who help off-site voters with the voting process will themselves be off-site rather than in the convention hall. “As we get more experience with this we’re moving some of the support for this out of the hall, opening up some of those positions to people who don’t have to be at GA.”
Steinwinter said the business mini-assemblies, where resolutions are crafted, will be more “robust” for off-site delegates this year. “In the past when data was shown on a screen at a mini-assembly the off-site delegates couldn’t see it. We’re going to try to find a way this year to make those presentations available to off-site people.”
Information Technology Services
In addition to developing and maintaining the computing infrastructure and information systems at the UUA, ITS also supports off-site delegates at General Assembly.
Key information: Off-site delegates need a computer with Internet access plus a separate phone connection. Delegates must be authorized by a congregation and will need to follow GA closely from home to vote at the appropriate times. uua.org/ga/virtual
Years off-site voting allowed: 3
Cost to register: $150
Deadline: June 7 by 5 p.m. EDT
Congregations represented by at least one off-site delegate last year: 56
Percent of off-site delegates who cast their votes last year in the company of other members of their congregation: 28
Director of Information Technology Services
“A real community has formed among [off-site delegates], and we’re looking at how to beef that up. We want to strengthen the sense that they are doing something together.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.